November 29, 2009
The Romance of a Spahi
The Romance of a Spahi (1881), Loti's second novel, deals with a Spahi (French colonial soldiers famous for their romantic uniforms), stationed in sub-Sahara Senegal. The novel was daring for its time as it depicts a love affair between a black woman and white man. It is particularly effective at showing how French soldiers stationed overseas become entangled in foreign lands and what this this does not only to the soldier, but social cohesion back home in France. But the novel says little about the impact of the colonizer on the colonized, other than treating them as romantic backdrop scenery.
The story is slow and fairly uneventful, its dealing in small things about normal people makes it believable and human. Loti's dreamy descriptions and specific details give it an air of exotica that is pleasurable. One can still read the book today and enjoy it for these positive aspects without being complicit in the racial colonial perspective it occasionally portrays. As partly autobiographical of Loti it's a lens into a life fully lived.
[STB, 06-2009, 173]